My Running Story: the marriage of stretch & sprint

Many of you know my yoga story.  This is my running story.

In high school, I remember hyperventilating at every indoor track meet. Could I win? probably not. But if I worked hard enough, I probably could earn points for my team.  Would I earn enough points? I was scared to fail. And it felt terrible to come in 2nd or 3rd each time. I never won.  And, my high school’s track was in the center of the gymnasium.  If you watched the swim meet, the viewing deck opened out onto the track.  Watching wrestling, fencing or squash?  Just turn around and see us running. It seemed the 400, my better race, sometimes had a big crowd. But the 50m dash ALWAYS happened during the other sports’ halftime.

During the spring season, I could figure out how to use the blocks to my advantage. They slowed me down. But I still had to use them.  I pulled my groin once pushing off too hard. I remember I loved track workouts but the meets were dreadful.   I despised being the last one in during cross country but loved that out of body experiences where it felt as though my skin was trying to keep up. My mind was trying to keep up with legs that kept propelling me forward.  I remember the NCISWAA (or whatever) champions of the year trophy. I remember being written about with the star Ashley Brennan as a freshman phenom.  The reporters were just being nice about me.

I loved running. But in the evenings, after study hall and before going to bed, I would flip out and try yoga poses from a book I bought. It was an Iyengar book. Then I got an Astanga book without knowing the two traditions had a history.  My favorite pose was karnapidasana and janusirsasana. I loved hamstring stretches and eventually pulled my hamstrings only I didn’t know it.

I got injured running. I got injured stretching. But I never stopped doing either.

In college, I did sit ups over what I would now, in my new life, call a birthing ball.  The house thought I was athletic but because I’d never won anything, I didn’t believe them.  Housemates told me I should join the XC team. I thought I was too slow despite training 3x week with a winning team member.  One fall, I witnessed my only collegiate track meet in Ainsworth Gymnasium. And stayed away. I still did yoga in my room.

On most weekends after college I would drive up Rt. 2 to watch my sister and her team compete in field hockey. I would run the back roads in the happy valley and then sit in the car for 2 hours. If I missed my run, I would jog through Williamstown and into NY (that happened just once -thank goodness). At the old age of 25, I took home a trophy with my own name on it.  I’d only ever received a medal for placing.

I moved to Boston and a friend in Law School suggested that the only way we’d see each other now that she lived in Wisconsin was if we trained for a race and then saw our other friend in California. I ran 9 miles a few times and then ran my first ½ marathon with an awful hamstring injury and couldn’t walk for a week.

The following year, I enrolled in yoga teacher training and ran the Boston Marathon.

People who I run with don’t understand the allure of yoga: “slow and just stretching=boring.”The yogis “’ think running is unhealthy for the body. Too much stress. Cant’ be good for you”  Both ignore science that confirms stressing the body in long holds makes you more flexible. Stressing the body through strength work makes you stronger. Probably applies to breathing and VO2 max- something runners and yogis care alot about.

I’ve been injured running (1998 groin so bad I slid down the stairs in my dormitory, unable to hold myself up). I’ve been injured practicing yoga (hamstring attachment strain in 2007 that still haunts me). And still, both ways of being are essential to my knowledge of self.

I consider living in an average body. Apart from my chocolate addition, I take care of it, but I’m not a contortionist nor am I a world record holder. Sometimes my flexibility in yoga is curbed by a PR on the road. But, my flexibility has gotten me into trouble. Other times, when running, focused on breathing, I’ve gotten from mile 5 to 18 without knowing how because I’ve just been with myself and only myself for hours. Runners would call that being in the zone, yogis call being present. It is not autopilot, It is clarity that cannot be anticipated or forced.

For me, Running and Yoga augment one to the other. They are similar in that reflection is always relative to your personal best or what your body did last time. Sometimes tempo runs are on the agenda and sometimes holding back to maintain a steady cadence is key.


Vinyasa- to place carefully.

Just last week I was in class and the teacher, who is always exact and precision when it comes to anatomy that one of the MANY definitions of vinyasa is to place deliberately with care:  to place carefully.  I’m paraphrasing. I’ve heard this before.  In fact, I can recall a conversation about the term vinayasa in my own teacher training course.  As a style, the term is confusion.  As a movement it can mean the transition between sides in an Astanga practice or the flow between reverse warrior and side angel.

What my teacher (NR) said was a reminder for me to slow down and be intentional.  Especially in a quickly moving vinyasa class are we paying attention to what we’re doing when we have only five breathes to find the pose and get out of it? I don’t know about you, but for me it’s about 50/50. Sometimes its more brain than body and other times the reverse. The perfect practice would incorporate the marriage of thinking, listening, and doing.

After class, that same evening on the radio Tom Ashbrook’s show on point.   You can listen or read the transcript “Where Yoga Gets Crazy” about Competitve Yoga and Bikram Yoga.  For me, the succession of NR’s class which was intelligently sequenced and informative and this radio conversation made me laugh because I began my serious quest to becoming a teacher with <<GASP>> Bikram yoga.

There was a studio near my college and I went regularly. When I graduated, I still went regularly.  This was the first studio where I had a daily practice.  Part of the appeal of course was that I lost so much water weight that when I got to the showers afterward I felt skinny and beautiful. And, the same sequence of postures every single time was appealing to me. Which, likely speaks to why I found my yoga in Boston with Elliott McEldowney the greatest Astanga instructor on this side of the river. The postures feel differently daily. But there’s comfort in knowing that the sequence is the same despite my body’s unique reaction.

Bikram yoga was not my thing any longer.  I remember people getting sick in class. There were days when I was light headed.  This was not a sustainable plan.  I had remarkable teachers in Noho, but they sold the studio and started another studio leaving Bikram to someone else.  That should have been a wake up call. But it wasn’t.  It wasn’t until I was ready to have this bliss-filling yoga experience that I saw what I was missing in Bikram classes.  The emphasis was now and is still placed on the action of the posture and the intention I bring to the mat rather than realizing the ultimate expression of the posture.  Bikram is not for me now but it is part of my yoga journey. It is the practice that truly got me committed to showing up to the mat. It was empowering.  It was fulfilling.

I just ran into someone in local naturals store and she was looking at yoga stuff for her mom who just started Bikram.  I told her while I’m not a fan these days, If people are moving and happy doing something, who are we to tell them their yoga is “bad” or not “authentic?”  People need and experience the industry of yoga for different aims and ends.

If you listen to the conversation  Tom Ashbrook was having, I wonder what you think.  I am so not ready for yoga competition because yoga is not a performance in my world. For ancient yogi’s it was. Heck, boys went around performing yoga to make money for their ashram.  But I approach my mat differently.  Does the Bikram culture and other yoga cultures condescend to the yoga I teach? Maybe, but it might not matter if my yoga continues to be genuine and intentional. You know, like, placed carefully.